Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - After their ordinations, it’s common for priests to find themselves assigned to teach. One of the things that makes the Lincoln Diocese unique is its practice of having priests teach most theology classes at the high school level.
The high school theology curriculum is comprised of Scripture for freshmen, Church history and the sacraments for sophomores, morality for juniors, and apologetics and vocations for seniors.
Father Cyrus Rowan is halfway through his fourth year of teaching at Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo. He teaches seventh grade and sophomore theology.
“I really enjoy teaching because I get to become part of the student’s lives and faith formation,” Father Rowan said. “I also like hearing what they have to say on topics covered in the class.”
Clare Plachy, a sophomore at Pius X High School in Lincoln said she enjoys going to Mass once a week with her theology class, and the conversations that come up in the classroom.
“There are a lot more intense questions and a lot more real-life topics,” she said. “I also really like learning about Church history. I think it’s just good to know, and it’s going to come up in college.”
At St. Cecilia High School in Hastings, Father Nathan Hall teaches sophomore and junior theology, as well as physics for juniors and seniors. He said that students were interested in the prospect of having a priest teach their physics class, where his background as a civil structural engineer comes in handy.
Father Hall said that physics involves looking at the world through the lens of God. He enjoys that his students have the experience of asking a priest science questions, and five of his students have expressed interest in becoming engineers.
One of the things he appreciates most about having priests teaching at the high school level is that students get to know different priests.
Father Hall said, “You can see the priests’ different personalities and how Christ works through someone’s individuality. Students can see that Christ works through your personality and who you are.”
During their seminary education, many seminarians are sent to schools to teach a class once a week as an apostolate, and all seminarians for the Lincoln Diocese take education classes at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward.
Their years in the seminary and the education that they receive contribute to what they’re able to teach in the classroom.
Father Christopher Goodwin, vicar for clergy, said that his own experience in the classroom, over five and a half years, was challenging, but had a big impact on him.
“I learned about what kind of teaching was effective and how to bridge the gap between what my theological education was telling me was effective and what the needs of my students were,” he said. “The first students I had in high school helped me to teach on their level.”
It was in the classroom that Father Goodwin learned what it means to ‘encounter someone where they are.’
“We really need to know how to encounter the people to whom we are looking to impart Christ.”
Both Father Goodwin and Dr. Matthew Hecker, the chief administrative officer for diocesan schools, believe that having priests and religious sisters in the classroom has impacted the number of vocations in the diocese.
“The subsequent connection to vocations is evident,” Dr. Hecker said. “Most of our priests come from our Catholic high schools.”
Even for those who aren’t called to a vocation in the priesthood or religious life, Dr. Hecker knows that a priestly presence in the schools has an impact on all the students there.
“The value of having priests in our high schools is their ability to bring Christ to our students,” Hecker said, “They’re using the classroom as an excuse to be in the hallways, to be there and to be Christ present both with witness, and with the sacraments.”
Father Rowan noted the importance of helping students to come to know Christ saying, “I feel that the priest is called to bring people into a closer relationship with Jesus and His Church. When we encounter Him and learn about what the Church teaches as part of her mission, we grow in that relationship with Christ.”
In the end, the goal of all priest teachers is to help their students come away with a living relationship with Christ, and the ability to be missionary disciples in regard to Scripture, Church history, apologetics and morality- all the things they’re learning in the classroom.